Clinton's Star Wars sequel

The president pays off the military by funding a notorious boondoggle.

Published January 19, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

Having watched, with fascinated disgust, the self-abasement of American liberals in front of the promiscuous solipsist President Clinton, I wondered what their reward would be. What did Jesse Jackson and Democrats Barney Frank and Maxine Waters hope to get as they rallied against impeachment and either endorsed or ignored the bombing of Iraq? Did they perhaps think of the president as a potential soul brother, harried by the racist Republican creeps, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi and Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia (and now South Carolina's Sen. Strom Thurmond and Chief Justice William Rehnquist)?

If so, their solidarity and fellow feeling will be their only reward. On the day that formal impeachment proceedings opened in the Senate, the New York Times found room for the following item on Page A-24. It followed the tradition of the three-headline crib note, with the best reserved for the small print:

Clinton to Pledge $7 Billion for Missile Defense System

But Decision to Build Is to Be Made in 2000

Setting aside money for "Star Wars," for practical and political reasons

In all the talk about Clinton-hating among the fascist underworld of America, nobody ever mentions the anti-Kenneth Starr and pro-Clinton picket lines thrown up by the nutball supporters of Lyndon LaRouche. It has been, ever since Ronald Reagan's heyday, a prime demand of these fanatics that the United States commit itself to a "Star Wars" program. I would not demean myself by arguing that such deranged elements have now got their way, any more than I would lower my intellectual bar to present the president as a hapless victim of the Christian Coalition. Rather, the Clinton capitulation -- and its timing -- is part of the long-standing bipartisan agreement between the White House, the Republican House and Senate leadership and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On Dec. 8, Daniel Ellsberg told a sun-drenched audience of Nation cruisers that he had good information about a forthcoming Clinton administration announcement on Star Wars, to be made in such a way as to protect Al Gore from any Republican charge of pacifism and appeasement in 2000.

On Jan. 2, Clinton used his weekly radio address to proclaim an increase in military spending of $110 billion over the next six years, the largest such hike since the High Noon of the Reagan era. And then, on Jan. 6, came the final surrender to the most exorbitant demands of the Pentagon and the extreme right. This is the first time that any funds have been set aside to build, rather than test, a missile defense system. The target year of 2000 makes Ellsberg's point neatly, while the announcement date shows Clinton yet again raiding the public purse to finance his own last-ditch personal defense.

Look again at the third deck of the New York Times headline above. What a laugh! There are, of course, no "practical" reasons to be throwing money at this fantasy project, on this or any other day. At least $55 billion has already been squandered on futile and spendthrift "tests," at what the paper demurely calls the "troubled" Theater High-Altitude Area Defense Program (THAAD). Troubled?

These ridiculous experiments, whether with interceptor or short-range missiles, have all ended in ignominy. An official commission, chaired by former Air Force Gen. Larry Welch, has reported strongly about waste and about what one expert primly terms "lack of concept." One could go on.

So much for the practical reasons. What of the "political" ones? I spoke to William Hartung, an arms-sales expert (and the author of the excellent "And Weapons For All") and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. "A good deal of this," he said, "is politically motivated." He goes on to explain:

The Joint Chiefs in the fall decided to break with Clinton, since he was in a weakened state. At a September meeting at the War College, which was leaked, they told Clinton that his behavior with Monica Lewinsky would have gotten a military officer dismissed. They also gave him a shopping list of demands. He told them he'd accommodate them and boost the nearly $260 billion per year they already got. They got $9 billion more last October. Now, Clinton wants to give them another $110 billion over the next six years.

Jonathan Dean, who represented the United States at the Mutual Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) conference in Vienna between 1972 and 1981, told me: "I frankly think that the defense budget would have been lower under George Bush -- assuming that there was a Democratic Congress. The Clinton administration is quite deliberately building up the idea of the 'rogue state,' and the rogue weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), as an easy way to justify the doctrine of fighting two regional wars while maintaining 'readiness.' WMDs are just a more scary way of making the argument."

There are many scary things about WMDs. One of them -- given that a rogue state would be committing suicide if it even fired a single missile in the general direction of the United States -- is that they can be smuggled across frontiers or even constructed inside them, quite immune to any missile system, however accurate. Another is that much unstable material, under uncertain control, still exists inside the former Soviet Union, whose Duma will not ratify the START II treaty if it suspects that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is being nullified. "Star Wars," of course, is the negation of ABM.

The Duma is supposed to vote in February. Was it really necessary for Clinton to make his stupid and inflammatory announcement the month before? Of course not, unless you make the assumption that he is capable of anything where his own skin is concerned. I personally do not wonder about that: It was proved beyond all doubt in August when he bombed innocents in Sudan (and, by failing to consult three of the four Joint Chiefs about the reckless operation, gave them yet another lever to use against him). What does make me gasp is the limitless gullibility of the liberals, as they blandly watch this man tossing all of their "concerns" off the back of a fleeing sled that contains only his own incriminated self.

By Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, the Nation and Salon News.

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